Aspiring Meditations: 28. Aspiring to Serve
Psa 2:11 Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.
Prov 22:29 Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.
Matt 20:28 the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve
To speak about ‘service’ not only sounds old fashioned (because those who served ‘below stairs’ as maids and butlers and so on, were referred as ‘being in service’) but also sounds boring and uninteresting, and yet the words ‘serve’ and ‘service’ are vitally important in the scriptures.
First a definition: To serve = to work for as a servant, to give obedience and reverent honor to God. The second part of that is what becomes so very important in scripture. We should not be surprised at reading the apostle Paul speaking of, “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness” (Rom 1:9) but if we were a stranger to the Bible we might be surprised to find the Son of God himself, using the prophetic name from past prophetic books, saying, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,”(Mt 20:28) when chiding his disciples for their self-serving ambitions and when he added, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (v.26) Jesus’ followers are to be servants!
Perhaps no more is this seen so clearly as in John 13 when Jesus washes his disciples dirty and dusty feet and says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you!” (Jn 13:15) Serving, we said above, is to work as a servant and as such it is an expression of both humility and submission. A servant submits to a master – but which master?
Here the scriptures take us into deeper water. Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Mt 6:24) This picture of serving conflicting masters comes up a number of times in scripture and perhaps one of the most graphic instance is that of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who Nebuchadnezzar had thrown in a fiery furnace, and when they were challenged they replied, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan 3:17,18)
That challenge was about who they would serve – God or Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘gods’ and it is a challenge that comes right down through history to the present day, whether those ‘gods’ be money, ambition, self-serving or whatever else is the replacement for God. Because the definition I used above came from a Bible dictionary, it included under ‘service’, to give obedience and reverent honor to God. Note it is not only ‘obedience’ but also ‘honour’, i.e. both deed and heart response.
Gehazi might have been described as Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 5:20) but when he went, clearly against the wishes of his master, and took gifts from the grateful Naaman (2 Kings 5:23,24) he showed that he may have been a servant in outward activities but not in his heart. Abraham’s servant, send to find a wife for Isaac, showed he was very different (Gen 24:10-), as he went with a prayerful and careful and sensitive heart to do the will of God.
This dichotomy between serving the Lord and serving the idols of the world was at the heart of a significant prophecy that Isaiah brought: “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isa 56:6,7) These are foreigners (us) who will have turned from the idols of the world to ‘serve’ God, to give Him their hearts as they come before Him in prayer and worship.
Don’t ever see ‘service’ as a ‘having to do work for the Lord’ thing; it is far bigger than that. It is having your heart captured by His love so that you see the wonder of life in His presence, the wonder of life with His presence living within you, the wonder of His blessings flowing into your life, and part of those blessings come when we simply respond to His word and His Spirit to bless Him, and bless His world, and as we do that we will be blessed.
Now I think we need to bring a specific focus before we conclude. A warning. This is particularly true, I have noticed, when you move in to a new church. When I retired a number of years ago from being lead elder of our local church, we felt we needed to give space to the other leaders to just get with it without worrying about me, and so we sought a new church. We had only been in that new church a few weeks when a dear lady, no doubt with the best of intentions, invited me to look after the library.
Now please understand me here, I have been at the front of the queue to do the washing up or putting out the chairs in the past, for many a long year, but my plea now is ‘know yourself’. Know who you are, what your energy level is, what grace God has given you, what giftings you may have or even what ministry He has called you to. We often run church like the local library or a local club, and we just see it as activity. Yes, serving is about availability but it is all about what God has gifted you to do. Yes, it doesn’t need a calling to pick up a cloth and wipe some dishes but Paul has given us quite extensive teaching on gifting and it is all about what God wants to put on your heart or what He has already put on your heart.
So, to recap, we’ve seen serving is more than merely outward acts; it is also about having your heart captured by God to follow Him and do His bidding. It was only in that famous instance of Isaiah’s vision (Isa 6) that after Isaiah had seen the Lord and had his past dealt with that the call was made to serve and he answered the call. I am not going to disparage any activity in the church by naming it, but I do believe if we have sorted these basic things, we would be wise to wait on the Lord, and listen to the Lord (who often redirects us through the prophetic word), and sense what He is putting on (or as I said, has already put on) your heart. It’s never too late to start. I had a vision a number of months ago to start up a particular group and our present Minister has approved it, so just before my umptieth birthday we’re starting a new venture, serving the Lord in this new way. Exciting days! Oh yes, serving is definitely yet another thing to aspire to.